It’s a tough time to be in the agency business as of late, with pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs all implemented so the industry can stay afloat amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
Even with those tough blows, WME has found a way to forge ahead with seminars and trainee talks under the “WME U” banner, as in WME University. The program, designed to keep employees informed, inspired and connected, has pivoted to virtual events that have found success thanks to a long list of A-list clients and programming that continues to strike a chord with staffers.
It goes like this: Each week, a WME U programming email goes out to staff offering a variety of virtual events, including WME Virtual Training Seminars, WME Talks, WME Master Class and a Peace of Mind Series. Employees can then plug into the private WebEx calls and participate.
WME Virtual Trainee Seminars — the brainchild of WME partners Marc Korman and Anna DeRoy, who oversee the trainee program — see a client paired with their agent for a wide-ranging Q&A that focuses that client’s personal and professional journey. Participants so far have included Mark Wahlberg with agent Doug Lucterhand; Matthew McConaughey with Brent Morley; Justin Timberlake with reps Brandt Joel and Keith Sarkisian; Jack Black with Sharon Jackson; Damien Chazelle with Jeff Gorin; Tamron Hall with Bradley Singer; Guy Fieri with Jason Hodes; and Simon Sinek with Ben Schiffer.
WME Talks is a weekly series that features a 30-minute discussion, demonstration or activity with clients from any division of the company. Participants so far have included best-selling author Glennon Doyle (Untamed, Love Warrior and Carry On, Warrior); Julianne Hough, teaching a workout class; Monica Aldama, of Cheer fame, delivering an inspirational talk; Olympian Adam Rippon; and the hosts of the popular Crooked Media podcast Pod Save America.
WME Master Class is similar to the online platform and it sees an agent from the company delivering a specific case study or deep dive into a client signing, major deal or industry trend.
Lastly, the Peace of Mind Series kicked off thanks to an idea from rising agents in the music and non-scripted groups who came together with the notion of asking clients to film themselves doing something they are passionate about or that brings them “peace” of mind while at home. As part of the effort, each episode highlights a client-chosen nonprofit that provides COVID-19 relief. So far, Dominique Ansel has taught “Easy Crepes for Every Kitchen” in support of One Fair Wage; Brian Mackenzie did breath work to support No Kid Hungry; and Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban taught a workout in support of Meals on Wheels.
In an interview, Korman opened up about the trainee program series, which includes 70 trainees working out of offices in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and London. He says the organic idea hatched during conversations with DeRoy and training and development executive Tali Garrett about how to keep everyone connected during the work-from-home period as mandated by the state of California under safe-at-home directives. “Anna and Tali have been sensational”, says Korman. “It’s that triangulated relationship that has created this”.
They started reaching out to clients with the request and approvals started rolling in. “It’s been an easy yes because it’s safe and it allows them to interact with young people to tell their own stories in an unfiltered, non-jaded way, which many people don’t get to do”, relates Korman.
The format includes a 30-minute moderated discussion between an agent and their client followed by a vetted Q&A portion that allows trainees to pose specific queries. Some sessions have stretched past 90 minutes, while Timberlake stayed on for two hours with Joel and Sarkisian. Because WME agents work on teams with each client, there are often multiple agents logged on, allowing individuals the opportunity to weigh in with anecdotes or intel as it comes up.
“Justin started asking the trainees questions — it was great”, Korman explains. “It’s been a truly educational, inspirational program that gives a sense of connectivity during a time when a lot of these kids are at home by themselves”.
For Korman, he says it’s even been cathartic, surprising and such a hit that they hope to continue the series through the course of the pandemic. They’ve also zeroed in on some big-name artists in music, filmmaking and acting that are expected to join soon. “Jack Black spent the entire time talking about Sharon Jackson and how much he loves her”, says Korman. “That’s one of the things I’ve found most refreshing is witnessing that bond between agent and client. The relationships they have are real”.